Discuss the Pacific gray whale migration with any mother and I almost guarantee she’s thinking what I’m thinking–swimming 10,000 miles round-trip to give birth sounds like a pain. Nonetheless, San Diego residents are sighting whales right now from shore or by boat which means your kids may have whale-related “why” questions on repetition.
Sound like a genius by arming yourself with these fun facts as you keep an eye out for whales. Or, just show the kids this helpful map, courtesy of Birch Aquarium at Scripps, that illustrates the route in an easy-to-understand manner.
Easy Gray Whale Facts You Can Remember
- Can reach lengths of up to 50 feet, with females measuring larger than males.
- Live from 50-70 years, typically.
- Are pregnant for 13.5 months.
- Swim at an average of 5 mph.
- Sleep or rest, according to scientists, in two ways. They rest with their blow holes exposed above water. Or, they rest underwater and come up for air every few minutes. Some believe that they do not stop swimming during migration and sleep while swimming auto-pilot.
- Have been observed snoring in lagoons.
- Embark on the longest mammal migration in the world of 10,000 miles round-trip.
Gray Whale Migration: Just The Basics
Gray whales eat bottom-feeding invertebrates in the arctic. They, basically, turn on their sides and scoop up sediment from the ocean floor. In the fall, as the arctic ice pushes south, the whales start to head south, too. During the journey, they feed opportunistically and by tapping into fat reserves. They pass by the western coast of Canada, Washington, Oregon, and California on their way to the warmer waters of Baja California, Mexico where they breed and give birth. The whales travel day and night at speeds of about 5 mph, as mentioned above.
The first whales to arrive are pregnant mothers and females ready to mate. It’s thought that the shallow lagoon waters also protect the whales from predators, such as sharks. Whales start to leave the lagoons in February. The last whales to leave are new mothers with their calves, who linger as long as possible (with some leaving in April and even May) in the warm water while waiting for the calves to grow strong enough for the journey. By mid March, most of the whales are seen off the coast of Washington.
However, we do have a few hundred rogue whales who hang out between California and Canada during the summer months. They’re called the Pacific Coast feeding group. For whatever reason, they don’t feel like heading all the way to the arctic. I can hardly blame them.
How And Where To See The Gray Whales
Gray whales start passing through San Diego waters in mid-December and can been seen roughly through mid-April. Our finest museums have partnered with local tour operators to provide unique, guided tours that usually run twice-daily. Read more about various San Diego whale watching excursions on Red Tricycle.
Should you find yourself traveling on the West Coast during the whale migration, have a look at this whale watching article on Trekaroo. Learn where and how to see whales from Canada on down to San Diego–and even in Maui!
Should you choose to spot whales from shore in San Diego, you’d better go now. January the month with the best odds. As they migrate north again, they usually swim too far out from shore to be seen.
*The helpful map above and photo are both courtesy of Birch Aquarium at Scripps.